Physical Therapy Helps Breast Cancer

Physical Therapy For Breast CancerBy: Aaron LeBauer PT, DPT, LeBauer Physical Therapy.

Unknown to most people, physical therapy can play a role in the treatment of breast cancer. Depending on the severity of the disease, extensive chemotherapy and sometimes surgery may be required. Following treatment, patients feel drained and worn out and may feel pain and tightness across the chest, have limited range of motion in the arms, shoulders and neck. This can lower the patient’s quality of life by significantly affecting day-to-day function.

Physical therapy helps with pain management, range of motion and muscle function. In fact, the American Cancer Society strongly recommends a structured exercise program and physical therapists are uniquely qualified to assess the need for, plan and implement such a program.

Post Surgery and Long term Care

Broadly speaking, the role of the physical therapist in breast cancer can be divided into two parts: input immediately after surgery, and long term care input.

1. Immediately after surgery

Breast cancer surgery not only involves removal of the affected breast tissue, but can also include the nearby lymph nodes and some blood vessels as well.  Surgery can contribute to adhesions in the connective tissue, cording in the armpit and restricted motion.

Manual therapy, Myofascial Release and exercise facilitate healing and help restore function in the affected side. As soon as pain subsides, the physical therapist can help increase range of motion, decrease pain and encourage muscle contractions. Physical therapists will prescribe and teach certain self-treatment, stretching and strengthening exercises for surrounding joints like the shoulder and elbow to maintain mobility and muscle function.

Breathing exercises allow for increased expansion of lungs and movements of joints in and around the rib cage. Postural precautions (not sleeping on the side of the operation for a few days for example) may be provided by your surgeon.

The prevention of swelling in the lymph nodes (lymphedema) reduces levels of fatigue, helping patients to remain active.

2. Long term treatment

A physical therapist can help patients regain confidence, improve lung capacity, move without pain, remain physically active and live happy, healthy and productive lives. This is achieved using a combination of exercise therapy, manual techniques and home exercise programs.

Patients may also be asked to participate in group exercise activities involving othe cancer patients. A social environment is a good way to promote rehabilitation and allow the patient to recover in a relaxed and comfortable environment.

The Road to Recovery

If you are experiencing any pain, tightness, cording, neck or shoulder problems or feel fatigued, call a physical therapist to schedule an evaluation.  In almost every state you do not need a referral for physical therapy and should call the physical therapy practice of your choice.  You can get recommendations from your friends, family, physician and use the interenet to find a physical therapist in your area. If you have any questions about whether physical therapy is right for you, reply to this email and we are happy to answer your questions.

Your physical therapist will teach you a gentle, progressive exercise and self myofascial release treatment program and will encourage you to work within your pain limits. Never push yourself to the point of sharp or shooting pain. Always take long, deep breaths, and never hold your breath while exercising. In the first few weeks of recovery, it is recommended to exercise with the guidance of a physical therapist.

Physical therapy plays an important role in the road to recovery for patients with breast cancer. Give us a chance to help you, and we’ll show you everything we can do to change your life.

Photo Source:

Aaron LeBauer PT, DPT, LMBT NC License #5361 & P12004
Dr. Aaron LeBauer is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Licensed Massage and Bodywork Therapist. He owns LeBauer Physical Therapy, LLC, with his wife Andra, in Greensboro, N.C.  He earned his Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from Elon University in 2008.  Dr. LeBauer graduated from Duke University in 1996 with a B.A. in History and moved  to San Francisco where he studied  Massage Therapy and Health Education at the National Holistic Institute.  He has specialized in Myofascial Release since 2000 and is an Instructor with the John F. Barnes MFR Seminars. A native of Greensboro,  Dr. LeBauer returned in 2005 to continue the third generation of LeBauers as health care professionals in Greensboro. 

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  1. Constantinidou says:

    The swelling occurs normally in the arm or chest of the operated side not in the lymph nodes themselves. Please correct me if I’m wrong.


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